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June and 11 August 1844. - Jean-Simon Bernard to Jean-Claude Colin

Translation by Amelia June 2009. See Quin's translation of the same letter.

From dispatch APM Z 208.

[Two sheets of paper, comprising eight written pages, plus a leaf written on the first side, page nine, the other side only bearing the address and Poupinel’s annotation. ]

[p. 10]
Mister •Mister Colin Superior • General of the Priests of the Society • of Mary, Saint Bartholomew Street • nº4 • in Lyons • (France)
[in Poupinel's handwriting]
N(ew) Zealand • Tauranga June 1844 • F(ather)Bernard
[p. 1]
G(lory to) G(od)[,] P(raise be to) M(ary)
Tauranga[,] month of June 1844.
My Very Reverend Father,
Four months have passed since Divine Providence entrusted me with Tauranga station[,] which has already been cultivated by Father Viard and Father Pezant. The Bishop left me here by myself with Brother Luc, [who has been] given to me just to build a house of wooden planks. Until now[,] we have been living in a house made of grass and reeds that the rats and mice are ruining and in which everything is piled up on top of each other. I was expecting to only have to gather the fruits of a land already cultivated for more than four years. Unfortunately[,] I was as mistaken here as elsewhere. Alas, how mistaken we were on leaving France, when we thought we were going to New Zealand only to bring in a harvest! Why not tell it like it is?
For my part[,] I will say what I think. Yes, the more I study the people of New Zealand, and in particular those of Tauranga, I only see in them a lazy, phlegmatic, entirely materialistic people, indifferent to the service of God, ungrateful for benefits received. With tobacco and blankets[,] we get them to say the prayer that we want for a while. If we tire of giving, they tire of praying as well and give up everything. I am here in a pa or village that numbers 400 people. Well, I hardly have 10 people each day at prayer, hardly 30 or 40 on Sunday. I have about 20 baptised adults here, and I am not very hopeful about baptising more for a long time now. The majority are indifferent and lazy. Those who have to walk 100 or 200 steps to come to the chapel find that the distance is too far: meaning they do not want to come. They have been in turn Protestant, Catholic, Protestant. They say they are still Catholics, but really they are not anything. They say Catholic prayer perhaps once a month when they feel like it.
My predecessor only had sugar and rice as a remedy. Soon everyone declared that it worked. But instead of decreasing the number of sick people, it only increased it. [p. 2] Someone told me that they all used to come one after the other, up to 3 or 4 from the same house when they were not known, to ask for sugar and rice for their sick person. Having thus obtained a certain amount[,] they would feast by sweetening their corn gruel. Since I have been here[,] there have been fewer sick because I have been giving out less rice and sugar; but instead a few cups of wild chicory or rhubarb which does not taste as pleasant. What particularly keeps them away is getting them to make the remedies themselves; it is expecting too much of them to have them boil water, look for a cooking pot, fire and wood for that, a bottle or something else[,] even an onion in their garden. Consequently[,] they often go away and do not ask for remedies anymore. To please them, I would have to make them myself, or have them made, and take them to their homes. But if I send a remedy, it almost always comes at a cost. I always have to go by boat from village to village to go and see them and consequently [I need to] have 2 or 3 rowers. But whoever takes up the oar asks to be paid, even if he is of the tribe where I am going,[1] if he has not himself asked for a trip in my boat, only in this case am I freed from paying them. But if I was relying on them to return home[,] I would have to pay them or else they would leave me there. A few of my confreres have been caught out. They were not able to get back home. As a result I had to pay to go and see them; [and] that is not all, we have to pay to sleep in their homes amongst the lice and fleas, on almost bare ground; [to pay] to eat a few potatoes that they hasten to boil in fresh water. For this[,] they do not exactly ask for money, utu; but they always expect or they even ask for a sign of aroha,[2] which amounts to a price always much more expensive than what would normally be paid. In a word[,] they treat us like other strangers[,] without consideration for the sacrifices we make for them. They see it as an obligation for us to go and see them, visit them, heal them and provide them with tobacco so that they say Catholic prayer from time to time. If we refuse them one of these different things, we are bad, hard in their eyes. This is how almost all New Zealanders behave. Yes, I think there are not yet 50 true native believers in all of New Zealand. This is also the opinion of 4 or 5 of them who, I think, are starting to have faith. They have told me that they all were deceitful and cheating, that they almost all had ulterior motives in coming to prayer.
Such is the state of souls, Very Reverend Father, in the station that I occupy. If I was not continually making personal efforts to surrender myself to the hands of Divine Providence, I would be plunged into the darkest sadness. But I tell myself: it is God who has called you here; the hour [p.3] when He shall call New Zealanders to faith has not yet come; He probably wants us to obtain it ourselves by adding some new merits to His. I hope that when we have amassed a certain amount of sacrifices, bouts of fatigue, and sufferings for the salvation of these poor savages, God will finally let Himself be moved. But I do not see[,] short of a great miracle of grace[,] how New Zealand will be able to become truly Catholic.
If these peoples do not come together as a united society, and if they always remain wanderers, I believe[,] humanly speaking[,] that we will never be able to convert them. Today they are here, tomorrow they will be 5 or 6 leagues from here. They spend 7 to 8 months in their pa; then they disperse in the woods 5 or 6 leagues away to spend the winter, pull out potatoes there and plant new ones. Not one gets worried about Sunday or religious celebrations, not even those baptised. Unfortunately they have before them the example of the Europeans of this country who are no more devout than they are, and whom they try to imitate. On the other hand[,] the Protestants, who are always more numerous[,] considerably hamper our work. They are beginning to cease attacking us head-on; but all these conflicts of religions and of the various behaviours of the Europeans end up making these souls, already so cold by nature, completely indifferent. Those who are indoctrinated in Protestantism have a certain fierceness in them; they even often use any means that they can to hinder our ministry.
Here is a striking example of this. About 4 months ago, a rather absent-minded Frenchman[,] who spends his time sawing wood here and there (he is a ship deserter)[,] went to Rotorua to saw some wood for F(ather) Reignier,[3] two days from here. Half way, having seen a fire in the ferns, he decided on a whim to take a fire brand from it and go a few steps further to set it alight. It is not known if it was as a result of this fire or the other one, [but] two waka or canoes and two Maori houses were burnt in the village at the edge of a wood. They were work houses belonging to Protestants.[4] As it is a Catholic and a Frenchman who started the fire, that was enough for those scoundrels; they accused him having pulled it off and therefore they accused Brother Euloge who was with him, and therefore Father Reignier and F(athe)r Pezant.[5] They were forbidden to travel that way from then on[,] unless the mission were to pay a large amount of money, but they preferred that we did not pay them at all and that we did not take this track which is the only direct one. They threatened to plunder any goods that we would send through there. We intended to give them something as compensation; but we did not want to appear to be paying for someone outside the mission. Finally, three weeks ago[,] I set off to go and see Father Reignier[,] who was sick in Rotorua, and [p.4] I also needed to go to confession myself. I left with one of my natives using the forbidden road. As I was passing quite close to the Protestant village to which the road affected by the fire belongs, they soon knew[6] that I was preparing to attempt the passage. One of them armed himself with an axe, took his dog with him and pursued me on foot. I had been walking at a good pace for two hours when he caught up with me. I was about to cross a river full of mud. My native was looking for a place in the riverbed where I would not sink. I had put a bag around my neck, both my hands full with my shoes, gaiters and my umbrella. This man approached me with wild eyes and asked me where I was going. I told him that I was going to Rotorua. He immediately came closer and told me that I would not be going further, that I had to go back to the village to make an arrangement with them. It was almost midday and if I was to go back, I could no longer complete the journey in two days, nor return to my station for Sunday. I asked him why he was telling me this, [and said] that I was a new priest in Tauranga, who had not seen anything, and that consequently I would not be turning back, that having to be back on Sunday, I would gladly go and speak to them on my return. He did not want to hear a word of it. He grabbed my umbrella that I was holding by one end and tried to take something from me to force me to return. Disconcerted, I tried to hold on tightly to everything that I had, even though I had both hands full. He pushed and pulled me with the axe slightly raised to scare me. So I offered him my neck and said to him, Here, strike me if you want to. Kill me if you want, but I will certainly not go back. At the same time, I called to my shy native who was standing on the other side of the river[,] considering what the outcome would be. He was not listening to me and his whole body was shaking, not so much for me but for himself. The axe was scaring him. Not wanting to resort to harsh measures, I tried to persuade my brave attacker[7] by appealing to his feelings and using gentle persuasion, but all that was just irritating him. He pushed and shook me so much that I fell to the ground and his dog jumped on me from behind. It tore my soutane. So then I screamed blue murder and made great threats to him on behalf of God and men. Finally, seeing that he was getting nowhere, he crossed the river[,] extremely furious; he climbed up onto the work site[8] which was raised and pretended to call for help to scare me. Far from being intimidated by his shouting, I followed him into the river. My native was not coming to get me. When I was in the middle, I took a wrong step and I sank in the water and mud up to my armpits. While I was telling off my cowardly native who was standing three steps away from his bag on top of which was my coat, the other man, no longer knowing how to go about things, ran to the bag, cut the rope with a swing of the axe, snatched my coat and ran off. I was all wet, I had neither coat, nor blanket to spend the night out in the open in the woods. Nevermind, I continued on my way[,] threatening to have him put in prison [p. 5] as a thief and murderer.[9] He disappeared amongst the ferns and fled. I continued on going towards the area affected by fire. Fear had not yet abandoned my cowardly native. He thought that the others were in their work village at the edge of the woods and that we were going to be killed this time. So he followed me[,] trembling; and as I called him a coward,[10] he was speaking as Saint Peter did at the time of the Last Supper.[11] He was saying all by himself now and then, Come back, it does not matter if we are both killed. But he was soon to behave in manner contrary to his words. When I wanted to have dinner, he was only willing to do this on a rise so as to be in a position to see the enemy approaching and be able to flee. On approaching the houses, fear gripped him; he was saying he could see someone’s tracks. He wanted me to take another track in the bush not far from the village. As for myself, I armed myself with a Salve Regina[12] and a prayer to my guardian angel so that all would end in the greatest glory of God and I went on clearing the way for him. Fortunately we did not meet anyone. Three times in the woods we met Maori going to Tauranga; he immediately told them about our adventure. They were Protestants. So I said to them, He [the attacker] is a thief and a murderer. (These terms humiliate them a lot.) If my coat has not been returned to my house when I get back, I will write to the English governor about it to have him put in prison, and if the English governor is not strong enough (because they do not fear the English much), I will write to my country about it and soon a war ship which is in Akaroa would be here to take him, punish him and ask him to pay for his affront to me. I added that my country is good with people who are not wicked but it is brave and strong against the wicked. One of them said to me, if someone brings back your coat, will you write? I told him no, because I am a priest and I love you all. I am willing to pardon him.
The following morning it was known in Tauranga that I had been robbed and attacked by a Protestant. The angered chiefs came to the house to tell Brother Luc that they were going to kill the murderer in punishment for his crime. At the same time[,] the coat[,] which had been given back[,] was returned to me. He [Brother Luc] told them not to kill him [the attacker], that it was not right to kill so readily. So they went to find his chief and ordered him to leave the road open for priests from now on, that it was not for them to judge Europeans, but for the Europeans themselves. My poor thief and his whole village where the Protestant ministry resides were cast in shame and embarrassment.
As for me, I walked on in the woods until nightfall; and then I took lodging amongst the birds.[13] It takes 8 or 9 hours’ brisk walking to cross this wood; the track is over roots and tree trunks[,] [p. 6] through scrub and branches. We lit a big fire under a little shed that we came across at night. I dried myself, [and] I said my breviary in the firelight. We were forced to have dinner without a drink; we could not find any water. Then I lay down next to the fire. When the cold would wake me up[,] I would rekindle the fire, then I lay down without going very far. As I was all wet, as well as coming back, I developed bad rheumatism in my left arm during this trip so that I have trouble lifting my arm. Blessed be God!
I came back the same way and I met all my Protestants in their work village. I had some natives with me. They all came to offer me their hand and seemed very ashamed. I reprimanded them for their behaviour and continued on my way in peace. They told me that peace had been made; they all blamed the thief, but they added that they did not want him to go to prison. Thus all the efforts of Satan, their father of darkness, are turned to the glory of religion and to the embarrassment of Protestantism.
Here is another matter which I had to sort out with the Protestants. Six weeks ago[,] a Protestant was very sick in my pa or village. I was called to give him some remedies. Clearly seeing that I could not cure him, I concerned myself more with remedies of the spirit than of the body. I spoke to him a little about religion, about God and the need to be baptised in order to be saved. On a second visit, I asked him if he wanted to be baptised. He answered no, and all those around him said the same thing. They added for him: The Protestant minister[14] urged him on an earlier occasion to let himself be baptised and he did not want it. So let him be. I left, heavy-hearted.[15] The next morning[,] I offered the holy sacrifice of the Mass in honour of Mary for the salvation of this soul enslaved by the devil; I appealed to the Virgin Mary in a special way, then I went to see my sick man. I spoke to him again about the principal truths.[16] I asked him if he believed in them. He told me and made a sign to me that he did. I asked him again if he wanted to be baptised. He told me straight away that he would like to. But two or three devils who were surrounding him, seeing that he was granting me what I requested, promptly spoke up and told me that they did not want it, that I had to go. I told them off firmly with a few words. I was scared that the sick man[,] who was hearing everything[,] would take back his consent. When I wanted to talk to him about the truths of religion, they shouted out over my voice that I should not baptise him. Unfortunately I did not have any water on me. I asked them for some. They refused to give me any. So I left, appearing unhappy, saying that I was going to come back. They told me not to return. I put off my return until the evening. I appealed again to Mary; then I prepared a very mild remedy. It was a phial of very sugary red wine. I took baptismal water with me. I first gave him my remedy in a spoon. He found it very good. Seeing that he seemed happy with my remedy, I told him again that I was going to baptise him, that he should quickly repent for his sins. The principal [p. 7] devil arrived at that very moment; I was not able to talk to him for very long; he seemed to approve of my words, but he no longer spoke. When they saw that I was going to baptise him, they threw themselves on me to prevent the water from running down his forehead. They could not stop me. It had already been done. I then strongly reprimanded them with a few words, and I left. Everyone was arriving. I feared that arguments would make my poor neophyte renounce. I do not know if the baptism is truly valid. I am leaving the whole matter in the hands of God. I would rather risk the validity of a sacrament than salvation[,] which is of infinite value. As soon as I had finished, that devil which was trying so hard to prevent me from baptising him changed his manner of speaking somewhat; he followed me for a few steps and said to me: I am not angry at you, but I did not want to let that chief be baptised because Brown (he is the Protestant minister) would get angry with me. That is why I shouted at you. The sick man finally died and we buried him according to Maori rites and with Protestant prayers. They were all Protestants and they did not want to allow me to bury him. I quite willingly give up the body when I can have the soul.
That is, Very Reverend Father, what the work of your children is reduced to. Fighting continually against Protestants or infidels, snatching[,] as if by force[,] a few souls who only take to it by half maybe, and travelling through woods and deserts to have prayer recited by about ten indolent people who say[,] as if in their sleep[,] two or three words of catechism that they are made to repeat ad nauseam. If I [was to] search within myself for ways to evangelise these peoples effectively, I would almost become disheartened. I can not think of any of the human means that would work. Indeed with whom do you begin instruction? [Would it be] with the elderly? But they are stuck in their old pagan ideas and only think about their pipes and sleeping. When you talk to them about God or baptism, they show you their pipe and say: My pipe is out, do you not have a bit of tobacco to feed it? They cannot listen to two words in a row about the matter of salvation. [Would it be] with the young unmarried people? They only think about running around, getting tattooed to be attractive to [other] young people and singing the most lewd songs imaginable. A baptised chief said to me recently: I do not want to have my young people baptised if they do not get married immediately. All the young people who are not married give in to fornication. In actual fact[,] they think of nothing but pleasure and amusement. However[,] it is those ones who still learn the best. [Would it be] with the young women, that pious sex in France? As young as 14, they give themselves to all the Europeans, to all the arriving ships for a little tobacco. They seem to be stupid when it comes to material matters. They only come to prayer in passing. They are even more carefree than the men and seem to be rather clueless. [Would it be] with the children[,] as in Europe? But it is impossible to keep them around you. They are playing all day long, running around completely naked, unable to pay two minutes’ [p. 8] attention. I tried to attract them to school and catechism, but to no avail. My predecessor[,] having wanted to bring them together to have them say catechism, [found that] after two or three times, they asked him for money to come to his catechism and then they ended up no longer coming to it. The children here are completely free; the parents never do anything to them. They never beat them and do not allow anyone else to beat them. (Would it be) with mature married men? But they only think about war, their waka (canoes) and their potatoes. However[,] they are still the ones that we can rely on the most.
See, Very Reverend Father, how we live on consolations here. Our main work is to wear ourselves out on the paths and rivers[,] without hope of a great harvest. To be able to do something substantial with this savage people[,] two things would be needed: 1. that, through an effect of grace, they overcome their nonchalance; 2. that they come together as a population, which will not be easily achieved. Fiat voluntas Dei![17] What is wearisome is being alone among these poor children, is not even having a Brother with one to ease the burden. You did promise to send us some Brothers, but we have been waiting a year and a half now and no one is coming to help us.[18] Sit nomen Domini benedictum.[19] So will God not allow us to have at least one server at mass[?] We do not have one here. These people cannot read Latin. What impression can the most awe-inspiring sacrifice make on the senses of these big children if it is celebrated in such a miserly way? No one to even show them how to hold themselves. Sometimes they stay squatting during the whole mass despite the little spiritual work we have; as for myself, I do not have time to open a book. When we are at the mission[,] they come one after the other to chat or to ask for tobacco. They would stay there whole days if we let them. We have to lock ourselves in to say our prayers. On the other hand[,] we would need the whole day to distribute remedies and make them ourselves. For this, everything has to be done in the house when we come back from a journey in the ferns or in the woods; it is rare for us not to need to arm ourselves with a needle and thread. Good heavens! What a ministry we have! Non mea voluntas sed tua fiat.[20]
11th August. Alas, if only we still had some other consolation, but unfortunately a poor ignorant native is sooner listened to than us. If this people[, who are] forever unhappy[,] complain: [then] we are the ones who are wrong. I came back yesterday from taking the Bishop to Father Pezant's place in Waikato,[21] which is four days' walk from here[,] across woods, rivers, numerous swamps and slippery mountains. He [the Bishop] came by my station and baptised en masse. As long as they knew a few words of the principal truths. He baptised about 50 for me in the various villages of my station. I do not know how to keep together this scattered, ignorant flock who only like tobacco. However I cannot go immediately back and visit them. After 3 or 4 days’ rest and putting in order my registers, my house and my clothes which are all torn up[,] [p. 9] I am going to go to visit a little island 7 leagues away by sea. There are 40 or 60 natives there who say Catholic prayer. But first[,] I need to kill my lice and stock up on supplies[;] for a fortnight, I have been sleeping sometimes on Maori mats, at other times on a wooden plank covered with a blanket (at my confrere’s), sometimes out in the open. I spent a night in that way with His Lordship; it froze hard indeed. We only had one blanket for shelter; on leaving a swamp where a native was carrying me, [he] sank with me into the water and mud. On the way back[,] I passed another one [night] at the foot of a mountain, covered by a little shelter of fern, in the midst of constant rain, having all my clothes wet right through. In the end I got away with just a few blisters on my feet and a little fatigue, my umbrella half torn in the ferns, with an umbrella rib broken by the wind, my gaiters in tatters and my soutane which needs replacing. Although I am telling you that my umbrella is broken, do not think it is a useless piece of equipment in New Zealand. On the contrary[,] I find it of great help. With it, having pulled up my soutane to beneath the arms, I keep a good part of it [the soutane] dry to spend the night sub dio.[22] Without it[,] there would be no way to last the night, being wet from one end to the other.[23]
You see as well, My Very Reverend Father, the difficulty we have in carrying out our spiritual exercises. For any reading [we may have], [we are] fortunate if we can make the most of a few moments and a few less [--][24] tracks to recite the breviary; my meditations are more like jaculatory prayers[25] than proper meditations when diving into swamps or passing through steep hills with the natives[,] who hardly know how to keep religious silence. You see then that we greatly need the help of your prayers and the protection of Mary to sustain us.
As time is pressing and I cannot write many letters at the moment, I am taking the liberty of asking you to commend me to the good prayers of the Rev(erend) F(athe)rs Maîtrepierre, Favier, Girard, etc. etc. to whom I offer my humble respects.
I am with the most profound respect,
My Very Reverend Father
Your very humble servant
and unworthy son in J(esus) C(hrist)
J(ean-)S(imon) Bernard
apost(olic) miss(ionary)


  1. Sic.
  2. Girard’s note: Maori words: utu = price; aroha = love, pity.
  3. In 1844, Father Euloge-Marie Reignier was stationed in Rotorua with Brother Euloge. (Keys, 1957, p. 212)
  4. Girard’s note: According to Hall (p. 126), this fire caused the destruction of the Protestant chapel, five houses, two canoes and almost all the potatoes planted at the village of Ahiroa. As a result, their chief, Philip, forbade all Catholics from using this path, which crossed his land to go to Rotorua.
  5. In 1844, Father Jean Pezant was stationed in Matamata. (Keys, 1957, p. 212).
  6. In this paragraph and the next, Bernard alternates between the historic present and past tenses (see note 32).
  7. Bernard refers to his attacker ironically as ‘mon champion’. In 19th century French, the proverbial expression ‘un vaillant champion’ meant a cowardly man. In this translation, ‘my brave attacker’ is an attempt to capture this irony.
  8. The word ‘worksite’ retains the ambiguity of the French ‘chantier’. Both words may refer to many things, the most likely description here being a felling site in the forest.
  9. Sic. Bernard does indeed refer to the attacker as a‘murderer’ (‘assassin’ in French).
  10. Sic. Bernard’s use of the conjunction ‘comme’ (‘as’ in English) creates much ambiguity in this sentence. In both languages, the word may denote simultaneity or consequence.
  11. See Matthew 26.30-35, where Peter claims that he would never abandon Jesus, even if others did.
  12. The Salve Regina is a prayer or hymn to the Virgin Mary and begins “Hail, holy queen, mother of mercy,” (Bowden, 2005, p. 693).
  13. I.e. Bernard passed the night in the forest.
  14. Girard’s note: Alfred Nesbit Brown was the Protestant missionary in the Tauranga region at the time (cf. Hall, p. 126).
  15. In this sentence, Bernard uses the historic present, and continues to use it at various times throughout the paragraph (see note 32).
  16. The principal truths are summarised in the Apostles’ Creed and constitute the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith. In the first two articles of the Creed, Christians profess their belief in God and Jesus Christ (New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2003, vol. 1, p. 577).
  17. Latin: May God’s will be done.
  18. Girard’s note: The missionaries of the seventh group, arriving at the Bay of Islands on the 18th of February 1843 (cf. doc. 247, § 31; 257, § 1), consisted of Fathers Auguste Chouvet, Delphin-Victor Moreau and Jean-Simon Bernard (the author of the present letter). No other missionaries would be sent to New Zealand during Colin’s generalate (see vol. 10, “Départs des missionaries”).
  19. Latin: May the name of the Lord be blessed.
  20. Girard’s note: “Not my will but His be done” [See the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in Mark 14.36]
  21. Bernard writes that Father Pezant station is ‘à Waikato’. In this context however, the preposition ‘à’ is usually reserved for a town or city, i.e. ‘à Hamilton’. Assuming that Bernard is talking of the Waikato region, the correct form would be ‘dans le Waikato’.
  22. Latin: "below or under God" meaning "in the open air" or "under the stars".
  23. Sic. Bernard does not employ the more common expression ‘de la tête aux pieds’ (‘from head to toe’).
  24. The missing word should be an adjective, for example ‘treacherous’.
  25. Jaculatory prayers, also called ejaculations, are short, fervent prayers.